While solar bioenergy is potentially an abundant and environmentally benign energy source, natural photosynthesis is relatively inefficient owing to slow steps in the conversion of carbon dioxide into biomass. This project seeks to increase energy capture by photosynthesis by diverting energy away from the normal slow steps to potentially more efficient processes. The first major goal of the project is to demonstrate that energy, in the form of electrical current produced by photosynthetic organisms, can be transmitted from a photosynthetic, energy capturing cell to an energy-storing "factory cell" via biological nanowires (biowires). The second major goal of the proposed work is to show that the factory cell can be engineered to use energy to produce useful fuel compounds.
Broader Impacts: This project will create the foundation for new directions in bioenergy research, with potential for dramatic increases in the efficiency of solar energy capture and storage, while training the next generation of scientists and engineers needed to compete in emerging areas of bioenergy and biotechnology. The project will demonstrate that energy can be transferred directly between cells as bio-electricity. Furthermore, the biowire to be developed will serve as a future generic connector for electrically connecting distinct cell types to create novel, functional biofilms. The photosynthetic components constructed in this project will serve as prototypes to establish a new design paradigm. In addition to these benefits, the project will 1) provide valuable resources to catalyze other important research projects, 2) train undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in areas of technology relevant to critical national needs, 3) establish productive international collaborations, and 4) disseminate information relevant to basic and applied research and development in energy and biotechnology.